This basic principle informs everything do, and we always make sure that our tactics reflect it. We never try to reinvent the wheel (always remembering that you don’t build communities – you join them) but rather spend some upfront time doing good, old-fashioned research. Where is the community of interest that you want to engage with? What are they talking about? How are the talking to each other (from a technology and content perspective) and how can our clients join the conversation in a relevant, valuable and respectful way?

This concept of working with and at times enhancing organic processes (that is, things that are already happening, or patterns of adoption or communication we have seen again and again in our work) is something we bake into every project, and it looks like we’re not the only ones who get the power and appropriateness of the metaphor. Check out this great post from Ike Pigott on the Now is Gone blog (in support of the new book by Geoff Livingston and Brian Solis of the same name).

While “social media” can happen on its own, it benefits from expert help. Each social media practitioner brings a different prescription for the right mix of ingredients. Along the way, you have to closely monitor the conditions, and know when to add water, when to goose the process, and when to back off. You also need to stay involved and engaged with the project, realizing this is a process – requiring a commitment to periodically get your hands dirty in a personal way.

If you’re not careful, you destroy the very organic support you were trying to cultivate. And there’s no real value in making compost, unless you intend to use it to feed and supplement existing public relations and reputation management efforts. If you have an expectation of overnight results, you aren’t growing anything of value. And if you’re caught cheating, you end up with a smelly pile that soils your name and encourages others to distance themselves from you.

I especially like his advice on how to choose an agency or consultant to help you in your forays into this space. Hint: you need to check under their fingernails.